Has Kate Gosselin still got it?
Monday night's episode found Gosselin and her brood in Australia, where they played with elephants and swam with sharks. Gosselin told her children that the animals eat "like you guys at breakfast time."
But it's not all fun and games for the family. If "Kate Plus 8" fails to boost its ratings, Gosselin might have to leave the reality TV realm for a more traditional job.
"The pressure is on for her," said Marsia Guthrie, senior television writer for The Hollywood Reporter. "She's generated headlines on 'Dancing With the Stars' and 'Sarah Palin's Alaska,' but there are signs that her status as a reality TV headliner might be fading."
"Kate Plus 8's" June 2010 debut drew 3.4 million viewers, but the second episode dropped 33 percent to 2.2 million. The rest of the season's episodes hovered around 1.6 million viewers each. "Jon & Kate Plus 8," by contrast, drew 9.8 million viewers with its season-five premiere, shattering TLC's past ratings high. (Granted, that was the episode in which the couple revealed their relationship woes.)
Producers likely aren't expecting "Kate Plus 8" to break records. Season five of "Jon & Kate Plus 8" drew viewers because it chronicled a crumbling marriage; Gosselin and her gang, while cute, aren't quite as dramatic. But pulling in upwards of two or three million viewers on a regular basis may be necessary to keep the show alive.
"They want to see it do at least as well as the first cycle, if not better," Guthrie said. "Kate and her producers realize that she needs to sort of prove her worth to the network. That's why she's going to Australia, she's camping -- they're putting her in dramatic situations. They're trying to ratchet up the action."
If that fails, there's always plan B: men. Gosselin's tug-of-war with Jon Gosselin, even during their good times, dragged fans to the TV.
"I don't think any new viewers are going to tune unless she gets married again and has someone to bicker with," said Eric Andersson, a senior writer for Us Weekly magazine.
In fact, Gosselin is starting to search for someone to fill her ex-husband's shoes.
"I'm kind of out-ish, sort of," she said in a Monday interview with E! News. "I was out in New York ... It was kind of weird. You never really picture yourself back in that scene after you're done with it in your twenties."
"But I'm trying to be a little more open-minded," she added. "If there's anybody out there that wants to deal with us, that would be good."
Don't expect her to hook up with a fellow celebrity just to gin up the show's ratings, though. Once a tabloid fixture, Gosselin has been hesitant over the past year to draw attention to her personal life.
"As calculating as Kate may seem, I don't think she'd hook up with someone just to get ratings," said Andersson. "She's a mom, she's got eight kids, so unless it happens organically and fits into her schedule, I don't see that happening."
Ultimately, Gosselin's household-name status could keep her on television whether or not the show's viewership increases. TLC's managers pulled the plug on their other star-driven show, "Sarah Palin's Alaska," in January; they may need Gosselin as much as she needs them.
"For better or for worse, she's kind of the face of TLC," Andersson said. "Even if ratings aren't that great, as long as it's not that expensive, I think they'll keep her and the show to have that celebrity cachet on the network."